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Wales fall to France after red card strips game of colour

October 15th, 2011 by · No Comments · Features

A 'Spear Tackle' according to referee Alain Rolland - he sounds a bit French to WCO

• Wales 8-9 France
• Try: Phillips, Pen: Hook; Pens: Parra 3
• Watch World Cup video highlights, interviews and more

The team without a coach are going to the World Cup final, having beaten the team who had to play without a captain for 62 minutes. And rugby goes on its merry little way, having shed a little of its soul.

This was going to be one of its uplifting days because, in the long daylight hours before the nine o’clock kick-off, Auckland swayed and sang in the sunshine, looking forward to a showdown between the mutinous and the marvellous. This was going to be a contrast of styles, of cultures, differences that would confirm the impression that this was a great place to be.

The first sign of trouble was the rain that fell from the night sky and dimmed the ambitions of players who wanted to run with the ball. Still, it was only a spot of the familiar and did not put off James Hook as he lined up and landed a penalty after four minutes. It did put him off his second, his left foot slipping before his right struck the ball. It was not to be the last slip of the night.

The second sign of trouble was the departure of Adam Jones, who left the field with a strained right calf five minutes later. This tighthead was the cornerstone of the Welsh scrum and from here on the set piece would feel the squeeze.

But the rain and the early loss of one of Wales’s most important players were nothing compared with what happened next. Sam Warburton, the player who has electrified his team with his leadership and transformed respect for Wales with his strength over the ball, under it, carrying it, now went to do what he does even better: tackle. He had read a pass to Vincent Clerc and picked up the winger, turned him and then dropped him.

The tip tackle, as the spear tackle is called down here, has become one of the great taboos of rugby, ever since Brian O’Driscoll was upended on the Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005 and was drilled into the ground in Christchurch. According to the letter of the law, it is now a red-card offence, although, back then, it was not even an offence.

And so it was that, in accordance with that letter of the law, the referee, Alain Rolland, immediately sent off Warburton. But his was not a spear tackle like the one that had ruined O’Driscoll’s shoulder. Warburton dropped Clerc. It was a yellow-card offence. This rugby law is an ass.

The game didn’t exactly die, for there were the motions to go through, which somehow stirred themselves into a frenzied final few minutes. But its lights had been dimmed and this was theatre in the shadows.

The Welsh player most affected was Hook. He lost his composure, had kicks charged down, missed a drop-kick and another penalty. One of the surprise breakthroughs at this World Cup had been made by Rhys Priestland, a calm distributor and graceful runner, who had brought out the best in Jamie Roberts, but who was missing here with a damaged shoulder.

Roberts managed to escape his French tacklers on a number of occasions, but Hook never worked the angles for him like Priestland and looked increasingly uncomfortable. Five minutes into the second half, he was replaced by Stephen Jones. The newcomer’s 103 caps should say something, and Jones has been an outstanding servant, but he was no Priestland either.

On their side, France did little more than crank up the pressure at the scrum and, more effectively, at the lineout. Wales lost control of possession and France kicked them back, out of hand and off the floor. Morgan Parra levelled the scores, edged France ahead and then made it 9-3 with three penalties.

But that was the sum of their ambitions. They played no rugby, choosing to try to pin Wales in their half. It was cautious and not entirely successful. Parra missed with a drop goal; Maxime Médard put the ball out on the full. They all looked happier without the ball.

The door then was still ajar at 9-3. Toby Faletau thundered at it, breaking tackles and making yards. George North didn’t have the best of nights with his catching, but when he did secure the ball he was always a danger.

Then came the moment of hope. Alun Wyn Jones won a rare lineout, Roberts crashed into midfield and Mike Phillips surged past Pascal Papé for the try that left Wales trailing by a single point. Stephen Jones lined up the conversion for the lead; it hit the post and bounced wide. A drop goal would be enough. Wales tried to work themselves into the right position, only for Jones to switch to his left foot. The ball went nowhere near the posts.

Leigh Halfpenny, superb under the high ball all night, lined up a penalty from just inside the French half, only to see the ball fade under the bar. The minutes were passing and, although France were visibly fading, their tackling was solid. They were, again, more assured without the ball.

For Wales, it would have to be a drop goal. Through 27 phases they went as the clock slipped past 80 minutes and as they tried to slip Stephen Jones into position for another drop goal. He never quite found himself close enough and the game ended with Jamie Roberts, heroic in all the games, knocking on.

France had held on: 15 had beaten 14, without ambition, without a coach. It was going to be a beautiful day for rugby union; instead it turned into a horrible night.

WALES Halfpenny; North, J Davies, Roberts, S Williams; Hook (S Jones 45), Phillips; Jenkins, Bennett, A Jones (James 9), Charteris, AW Jones (B Davies 60), Lydiate, Warburton (capt), Faletau.

Try Phillips Pen Hook

Sent off Warburton

FRANCE Médard, Clerc, Rougerie, Mermoz, Palisson; Parra, Yachvili; Poux (Barecella 44), Servat (Szarzewski 44), Mas, Papé (Pierre 60), Nallet, Dusautoir (capt), Bonnaire (Ouedraogo 75), Harinordoquy.

Pens Parra 3

Referee Alain Rolland (Ire)

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